As a story teller, with Leicester City at the top of the Premier League it’s been the year of the underdog, and I’ve been following the Iain Duncan Smith, or the IDS narrative, with interest. He resigned from the Cabinet because ‘I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national interest…[I] wonder at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure “we are all in it together”’.
I wonder too if we are really in it together. I wonder too at the surprise and talk of salami slicing of the welfare budget. I thought as the former head of a think tank, IDS might have noticed that money was moving from the poor to the rich at increasing rate, and Osborne’s budget was following a familiar pattern. We can go back to Robin Hood stealing from the poor and keeping his loot because he worked damned hard for it. Or the debates in the House of Commons in the 1830s. The surprise and outrage some MPs gave themselves over to that children were being used in the workforce and forced, for example, to sweep chimneys and go down coal mines as a health cure for sloth. Up until then they thought it was simply small deformed adults of which there were too many for even Charles Dickens to enumerate, or black men kept in chains, which didn’t really count as human exploitation, because other people were doing it and fairs fair. In no time at all, with hymn singing and weeping and wailing and gnashing of pearly-white teeth children were provided for. By Parliamentary decree they should have at least two hours of education a day until they were thirteen. We were all in it together, now as then.
I do wonder what is going to happen to IDS’s flagship policy of universal credit. Cynical commentators would suggest that re-packing all benefits together such as housing, working tax credit, or jobseeker’s allowance et al, at a reduced rate, could be construed as a cost-saving device. Pulling a government lever and the poor are diminished and as we know they have no backbench peers. But IDS is not alone. Martin Ford (2015) in Rise of the Robots also suggested that as robots will be doing most of the jobs we do now, citizen should be given, as of right, a fixed income. As any Think-tank leader knows this idea does not come from Marx, but from the darling of Thatcherism, Friedrich Hayek. A basic fixed income was something we used to naively believe in. A social safety net. Remember that? When Pete Townsend’s Poverty in the UK in the 1970s had politicians rushing to the barrier demanding that something should be done to help poor people. Poor people with an income of £40 000 per year. Of if you are a refugee around £35 000. Yes, us poor are all in it together.
Cynics might imaging that when IDS recovers from the shock that Conservative policies are ideologically and not economically driven then he might take stock and someone –quite soon- might propose him as leader of the Conservative Party. Certainly good old Boris Johnson is IDS’s rival. When David Cameron steps down, who has the Trump-card? Then, of course, there has to be the right market conditions. Britain must be out of Europe. The alternative, when there are no alternatives, is Osborne, or so he keeps telling us, which was a successful enough narrative to get the party re-elected with an increased majority. If he keeps salami slicing the poor, he would seem like a safe pair of hands – and favourite as the next Conservative Prime minister. With boundary changes and the continuing dissolution of the Labour Party he could be in power as long as Chairman Mao. I’m sure in ten or fifteen years we’ll still have a Conservative government, but it’s interesting watching the starters mocking for position. IDS might turn out to be a Leicester City and take the big prize. The only losers will be poor people and we don’t count. It’s relegation for us and literally fighting for scraps.